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A Saratoga legacy unfurled

Workers install a massive Confederate flag at the state museum in Albany. Saratoga County native Elmer Ellsworth was killed after he tore down the flag. He was the first Union officer to die in the Civil War.

Workers install a massive Confederate flag at the state museum in Albany. Saratoga County native Elmer Ellsworth was killed after he tore down the flag. He was the first Union officer to die in the Civil War.

— Ellsworth, the story goes, told Lincoln he would bring the flag down. So across the Potomac he went. He and four others climbed to the top of the Marshall House and cut the flag down. Ellsworth was carrying the flag downstairs when Jackson fatally shot him. In turn, Col. Francis E. Brownell, of Troy, shot and killed Jackson. Brownell later was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Ellsworth had been a popular figure, Weible said. In death, “he became kind of a martyr.” Lincoln ordered Ellsworth’s body brought to the White House, where he lay in state in the East Room. The body was then taken to City Hall in New York and finally to the Capitol in Albany before Ellsworth was buried in the Hudson View Cemetery in Mechanicville.

It was rare in those days for a body to be put on public display, Weible said, so Ellsworth wound up being one of the first people ever embalmed.

The flag, meanwhile, was coveted, along with other mementoes related to the shooting. Today there are pieces of the flag housed at both the Smithsonian Institute and Bates College. But the bulk of the flag belongs to the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center in Saratoga Springs, which has loaned it to the state museum.

The flag is part of what Weible called a “very ambitious exhibit” about the Civil War. Covering 7,000 square feet, it includes a brass slave collar, the only known portrait of Dred Scott and a number of other items from the collections of the state museum, library and archives. “An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War” will be on display until September of 2013. The flag will be on display until Feb. 24.

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